By the end of January, Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates employees will have wrapped 1,500 chocolate bars.

Tucked inside the packaging of three of those bars will be a golden ticket granting its finder a gift bag worth up to $200 as well as a tour of the Fairfax City-based nonprofit café.

As part of the City of Fairfax’s annual Chocolate Lovers Festival, the bars will be distributed among 27 participating local businesses, whose customers can purchase the candy for $2. The recipients of the golden tickets will be random.

This will be the 27th year that Fairfax City hosts its Chocolate Lovers Festival, which will last from Feb. 1 through 3, but it is the first time that the city has tried to incorporate this golden ticket contest.

“In previous years, we’ve done scavenger hunts, but we wanted to do an activity that was new, that created a sense of nostalgia,” City of Fairfax business development associate Danette Nguyen said. “We thought, what better way to connect festival attendees with the small businesses here in Fairfax than with a golden ticket contest?”

The City of Fairfax held its first Chocolate Lovers Festival in February 1993 as part of a joint effort with the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Fairfax Coalition, the Downtown Fairfax Merchants Association, and George Mason University to draw more visitors to Old Town Fairfax.

Scheduled for the first week of February every year since then, the festival has flourished into a reliable attraction not just for Fairfax City or county residents, but for people from all over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

In the past, festival attendees have hailed from as far away as Fredericksburg or Gaithersburg, Md., according to Ellen Graham, co-founder of Every1 Can Work, the nonprofit that operates Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates.

A foundation dedicated to providing employment opportunities to young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Every1 Can Work opened Cameron’s on Oct. 1, 2013 as its first business enterprise.

The café, which makes chocolate and baked goods from scratch daily, has served as a vendor at the Chocolate Lovers Festival’s two-day Taste of Chocolate event ever since.

“It’s wonderful,” Graham said of the festival. “…It’s been going for so many years, and it’s two stories worth of chocolate vendors, so what’s not to love? For us, it gives great exposure for our mission and for our employees.”

The Fairfax City Golden Ticket Contest was spearheaded by the Fairfax City Economic Development Authority, which recruited Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates to make the bars.

“We’ve got a great number of businesses, small businesses here in Fairfax City,” Nguyen said. “Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates not only produces wonderful chocolate, but they’ve also got a great business directive, and we wanted to stand behind them and support our local businesses here in the city.”

The economic development authority also put out a call to action seeking businesses that wanted to participate in the contest with the only requirement being that they had to be located in Old Town Fairfax.

The businesses involved in the contest range from restaurants like 21 Great American Bistro and Tandoori Nights Fairfax to beauty shops like the Nail Bar and Dante Salon and Wellness Spa. A full list of all 27 business and a map showing their locations can be found on the Fairfax City Economic Development Authority’s website at fairfaxcity.com/goldenticket.

Proceeds from the chocolate bars sold as part of the golden ticket contest will go to the recipients of the Chocolate Lovers Festival Committee grants, which are awarded every year to nonprofits that are located in the City of Fairfax or that are in the D.C. area and directly serve Fairfax City residents.

Every1 Can Work has received a Chocolate Lovers Festival grant in the past.

The 2019 grant recipients include the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program, which helps people with disabilities, at-risk youths, recovering military personnel, and others in need with horse-riding programs and services, and the Northern Virginia Pro Bono Law Center, which provides free-of-charge legal services to disabled and low-income Fairfax City residents.

The Chocolate Lovers Festival Committee also chose the City of Fairfax Band Association, a community music organization that regularly performs at city events, as a grant recipient.

A percentage of the sales made by Taste of Chocolate vendors also goes to the festival’s grant recipients.

While the golden ticket contest is the newest addition to the annual event, the 2019 Chocolate Lovers Festival will see the return of familiar attractions like the Taste of Chocolate, which allows visitors to sample sweets from various vendors, and the Chocolate Challenge, a judged competition between professional and amateur cake bakers accompanied by a silent auction.

The proceedings kick off at 6:00 p.m. on Feb. 1 with the Liquid Chocolate Tent, which offers hot chocolate, chocolate wine and beer, chocolate soda, dessert-and-wine pairings, and other liquid-based treats.

This year’s Taste of Chocolate, which will be held at Old Town Hall on Feb. 2 and 3, features 17 vendors, all of them based in the D.C. region.

Some vendors, like The Capitol Candy Jar, are festival staples, but others, like Cardinal Chocolates, are brand-new.

Jennifer Scales started Cardinal Chocolates around Christmas in 2013.

Though its products can be purchased online, Cardinal Chocolates is predominantly a wholesaler that stocks stores, such as Commonwealth Dry Goods in Fairfax City.

It also specializes in creating branded chocolate customized for local businesses. For instance, Cardinal Chocolates works with the Fredericksburg-based Ricks Roasters to infuse its espresso in some products, including chocolate bars made expressly for the coffee company.

Cardinal Chocolate produces a variety of chocolate bars, truffles, fruit and nut bites, and other confections, but its most popular products are the espresso coffee bark and potato chip bark, according to Scales.

“I think they’re just unique,” Scales said when asked why those particular items stand out. “The espresso is so good, so flavorful. There’s some cinnamon on the top of it. It’s just different. You don’t find it everywhere, and the potato chip bark is just kind of a novelty thing, I think, when people originally buy it, and then the flavor gets them, and they come back for more. It’s crunchy and salty and sweet.”

Scales has served as a vendor at the Fairfax Holiday Market before, but she never participated in previous iterations of the Chocolate Lovers Festival because she did not think she “had products at a price point that would sell.”

This year, she decided to make smaller versions of different items to give visitors a taste of what Cardinal Chocolates has to offer.

“With the smaller versions of things, it will allow people to try it that haven’t tried it before,” Scales said. “We also have a store right across the street from where the Chocolate Lovers Festival is. We sell at a place there called Commonwealth Dry Goods, so it’s exciting for me to point where they can buy it year-round.”

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